x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Couple who kept Palestinian girl captive for almost a decade charged

Hassan Melhem, 49, the father, and the unidentified stepmother of Baraa Melhem were indicted at district court on charges of abusing a minor, unlawful imprisonment and encouraging suicide.

JERUSALEM // A Palestinian couple was formally charged yesterday with imprisoning their 20-year-old daughter for nine years in a series of rooms where she was allegedly starved, beaten and threatened with rape.

Hassan Melhem, 49, the father, and the unidentified stepmother of Baraa Melhem were indicted at district court on charges of abusing a minor, unlawful imprisonment and encouraging suicide.

Ms Melhem has accused them of locking her in a bathroom at the age of 11, after she ran away from home, and preventing her from leaving the family home for the next nine years by restraining her with psychological intimidation and physical abuse.

Palestinian security forces arrested the couple, who are both Palestinian citizens of Israel, at their home in the West Bank city of Qalqiliya this month after a relative notified authorities of Ms Melhem's situation.

Ms Melhem's ordeal has shocked Palestinians and Israelis.

In an interview shortly after she was freed in late January, she described how both her father and stepmother whipped her with electrical cords and encouraged her to commit suicide using a razor blade. Fed only bread, olive oil and apples, she said she was only let out of her room at night and allowed to clean the house.

She said her father threatened her with rape until she became pregnant, to prevent her from escaping. Then, she said, because her illegitimate pregnancy would have shamed the family, he would murder her using "honour killing" as a justification.

Her only solace was cleaning, jumping in place for exercise and a small radio that allowed her to keep abreast of current events, she said.

Police found her on the floor of a bathroom wearing tattered clothes and wrapped in an old blanket.

Ms Melhem now lives in Jerusalem with her mother.

hnaylor@thenational.ae


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